Commissioner Kichline: Finding, Working with People of Common Interests Key to Building Community

Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and Michelle Kichline, chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, were each honored with the 10th annual Helena Devereux Women in Leadership Award during the Main Line Chamber of Commerce’s Gold Leaf Celebration at the Philadelphia Country Club on Sept. 27. (Image and caption via Main Line Suburban Life)

Publisher’s Note: The following is the unedited transcript of Chester County Commissioner Michelle Kichline’s Helena Devereux Women in Leadership Award acceptance speech delivered at the Main Line Chamber of Commerce’s luncheon in September. 

By Commissioner Michelle Kichline

Thank you Buck [Riley] for that kind introduction…and thank you to the Main Line Chamber of Commerce and the Gold Leaf Committee for this incredible honor. Your vision and dedication to supporting women in leadership is truly commendable.

I thank my family for their love, guidance and support – my parents Bela and Angela, my husband Michael and my children Amanda and Andrew.  Without your direction, your backing, and your flexibility, I could not have taken on the professional, political and personal commitments that have brought me here today.

To my friends and colleagues in Chester County, I thank you.  In particular, my fellow county commissioners Terence Farrell and Kathi Cozzone, recently-retired COO Mark Rupsis, and County Administrator Bobby Kagel.  Working with all of you is a privilege and one that I value every day.

As we heard earlier, Helena Devereux was a pioneer and a visionary in the area of special education.  To be presented with an award in her name is especially meaningful to me as I began my legal career in the area of special education law.  I also grew up and still live in the area where Helena lived and where her foundation is still headquartered.  It is extraordinary to think that Helena Devereux began work at the age of 27, with just $100…AND at a time when she couldn’t even vote!

I am also honored to share this award with Val Arkoosh.  As you’ve heard, we have developed common interests in the importance of transportation…of open space…and in the need to rally a community to take on an opioid and heroin crisis that has affected, or is impacting every citizen in the region.  Kudos to the Main Line Chamber for finding not only a democrat and republican who share such common interests, but also in finding a doctor and a lawyer who agree on so many important issues!

In announcing this year’s award winners, the Main Line Chamber and the Gold Leaf Committee noted that they were looking to inspire women to work across party lines and make a significant impact on the region.  Chester County has a well-earned reputation for “reaching across the aisle” to establish and to offer services and programs that make us one of the best in the state and the nation – and we’re the only county in the region that has a Chair and Vice Chair from different parties. I “tip my cap” to Kathi, and to Terence (even though he isn’t a woman!), as both of them put the good of all citizens ahead of party politics.

The Helena Devereux Award is presented to women who have achieved exemplary accomplishments.  Over the past 10 years, many well-deserving women have received this award.  But I’m sure we all know of other women – those personal to us – who also deserve this kind of acknowledgment.

Let me finish by honoring two women who “molded me” into someone who can look beyond a label to achieve the best for a community.

My mother Angela, and my grandmother, Katherine.

My mother – my hero – came to this country as a teenager.  She left her parents behind in communist Hungary, spoke no English when she arrived here, but through sheer force of personality and hard work she learned the language, put herself through college and grad school and worked very hard – sometimes working multiple jobs – so that my brother and I could have many opportunities.  SHE achieved tremendous accomplishments…

But she “came by it honest”   as she was not the first strong woman in my family.

Before her, was her mother – my grandmother – Katherine, a peasant farmer in a small village in Hungary.

Her story, as told by my mother, is one that humbles and inspires me every day.  In 1944, Hitler ordered the Nazi army to occupy Hungary.  My grandmother, Katherine, was a young mother with five children.  She was alone, running the family farm because my grandfather was serving in the Hungarian army. After the German invasion, word went through the area that the Nazis were rounding up all of the Jewish people to send them to camps.  My grandmother, despite having no husband at home, and being responsible for young children, sent out word that she would hide and feed Jews in her barn as they tried to make their escape. She was able to save some of the Jewish people in the area… but was eventually captured and tortured by the Nazis for her actions.

SHE was a woman of tremendous accomplishments, and although I never met her, I choose to honor her legacy by making decisions, and sometimes sacrifices, to help my neighbors, my community. My decisions and my actions may not be as extreme as those faced by my grandmother, but finding and working with others to achieve communality…to make a significant, positive impact on our community…is more important today than ever.

Because, as another very wise woman – a pioneer with disabilities named Helen Keller – once said, “Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.”

Thank you.



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